Yesterday the Oilers announced that forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been shut down for the season. He will undergo a fairly serious shoulder surgery that could take up to six months to heal.
I have been saying for a couple months that there was some issue with his shoulder. I know he took some time off before the World Junior tournament to rehab it, so it wasn’t like I was really breaking a story, but even without that there were signs.
A center really needs to be strong and healthy physically to play his position. They play all two hundred feet on the ice. All four corners, in front of both nets and everything in between. There are very few places to hide during a shift for a center.
On top of those responsibilities are face offs. These are very important situations of the game for a center. Starting with the puck for a shift makes a big difference. A good center competes for every face off. However, battling for every draw takes a toll on a center. Ask any player who takes a bunch of draws every night. The wrists, arms, legs and yes shoulders really get abused in the circle.
After watching the Nuge since the season started I saw areas of his game where there was an obvious lack of strength. But one area really stuck out. In his own zone it was very clear that he was having issues with his shoulder. In front of the net there were too many times where he was out-muscled. He isn’t the strongest player in the league, but you don’t have to be to lift another player’s stick. It helps, but it isn’t impossible without Wanye type strength.
I can think of quite a few times where he and the opposing forward were going for a puck and the Nuge just wasn’t able to lift the stick. I am sure it was frustrating for him. Having weakness in your shoulder is difficult to work around.
I had a similar injury when I was playing in Chicago. It was very weird to play with a shoulder that felt loose and not very strong. With my labrum issue I had the choice to have the surgery or try and rehab it back to strength. The team and I decided I would try the rehab route first (keep in mind that all injuries are unique).
When I came back to play I wasn’t a 100 percent. Until I was (the next season) it was hard to play with a bad shoulder. Battling in front of the net to get position on the forward or lifting his stick was painful. Fighting, wow, it felt like I was fighting with one arm. That wasn’t much fun either. The season ended, I worked like crazy to improve the strength in the shoulder during the summer. The next year is was pretty close to normal, but not perfect.
With both Hemsky and Hall having had shoulder surgeries the last couple of years the Oilers training staff have a very good understanding on the protocol required. The Nuge will be seeing a lot of them all summer working on rehab and regaining strength. It won’t be a fun summer, but he should be ready sometime after the season starts next year.
Many fans were wondering why the team didn’t have him get it done earlier. Easy to say that now with the team officially out of the playoffs. Two weeks ago an announcement like this would have had fans storming the Oiler offices.
The only concern I have is how this will affect his summer training regimen. I have no doubt he will come back next fall in shape with a shoulder that is ready to let him play and battle the way he wants.
The bad news he will be working all summer to just get back to where he is right now. In a perfect world he could have gone into the summer completely healthy and had the ability to add some muscle to his frame. I feel an additional five to seven pounds of twisted steel would have helped him.
He would be stronger and heavier to compete against some of the bigger centers in the new division next year. He would be adding some armor onto his frame to protect himself from the wear and tear that comes with an NHL season. Lastly, he would look better walking on a beach.
With this surgery adding some size will be difficult I think. He is very young so there is always next summer though.
NHL coaches love using this term. I will give you an prime example of what they are talking about when they say it.
With just over a minute to go in the second period in last nights game, Taylor Hall was in control of the puck coming out of his end. Instead of chipping the puck forward or passing it to a player further up the ice he decides to dangle a Duck right at center ice.
The puck is turned over and goes back into the Oiler zone. A goal doesn’t get scored right then, but less then thirty seconds later it does. On the next shift they do. The teams had changed lines but the momentum hadn’t.
This is puck management 101. Understanding the time remaining in the period is crucial. Understanding that a risky play at center ice in a tight game isn’t the right play is something that is learned through experience. If Hall can chip it forward to a linemate, who then dumps the puck in, I guarantee no goal is scored before the end of the period. Dumping it in isn’t always the sexy play for fans to watch, but it wins games.
Now I am not picking on Hall, it was just a perfect opportunity to explain puck management. With this group of Oilers there are examples like this quite often during a game. Watch the Blues or Hawks play, count how many times this happens with those groups.
These are lessons the young Oilers need to learn and experience. When they get it down, they will make the game much easier for them to play and they will actually get more scoring chances.
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